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In popular parlance hafidh or hafiz seems primarily to refer to a person who has memorized the whole Qur'an. But when we read books we find this title mostly used to introduce a hadith scholar such as al-Hafidh ibn Hajar, al-Hafidh al-'Iraqi, al-Hafidh a-Dhahabi, al-Hafidh ibn 'Abd al-Bar, al-Hafidh ibn Kathir, al-Hafidh al-Bazzar etc. (if we don't call them Imams) so they are referred to as muhaddith and (imam) hafidh محدث وإمام حافظ.

Of course based on the typical religious education of Muslim scholars all of these people have certainly memorized the Qur'an, so my question is who exactly is a hafidh, and what topic(s) must his knowledge cover or who is eligible to be called hafidh?

Note in Morocco usually a person who had memorized the Qur'an is called talib (Student) as he just reached the very first step in a possible scholarly career.

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The term ḥāfidh (Arabic: حافظ) when used in connection with the Qur'an refers to someone who has memorized and recited from memory the entire Qur'an under the supervision of a competent authority using one or more mutawātir recitations (e.g., Hafs through 'Āssim, or Warsh through Nāfi', etc.).

When used in connection with hadith, it bears a different meaning, though. Both ḥāfidh and muḥaddith (Arabic: محدث) are categorizations of scholarly levels in hadith. Said categorization is a function of:

  • Memorization of hadiths, both matn (content) and sanad (chain of narration).
  • Knowledge of the levels of the authenticity of the hadiths.
  • Knowledge of the level of the narrators in the narration chains.

The criteria listed above were set and documented by Ibn Ḥajar al-'Asqalani, himself a highly-esteemed scholar of hadith (to the extent that when the term Al-Ḥāfidh is used without associating it with a name, it refers to him) in his book An-Nukat 'ala Kitāb Ibn aṣ-Ṣalāḥ 1/268 (Arabic only). The thresholds of the number of hadiths that distinguish between one level and another are not uniquely defined, though.

Al-Mizzi, when asked about such thresholds for a ḥāfidh, did not give a number; rather, he said that the number of narrators that they master their knowledge (character, biographies, conditions, and the countries they had been to) should exceed 50% (in relation to the total number of narrators of hadith). Ibn Sayyid an-Nās defined a muḥaddith as someone who studies hadith from narration and awareness aspects (i.e. knowledge of background is not a requirement; knowledge of authenticity of a hadith suffices). See Ta'rīf 'Ilm al-Jarḥ wa at-Ta'dīl pp. 54 (Arabic only) for more details.

Muhammad Hassan 'Abdul-Ghaffār in his book, Sharḥ al-Mandhūma al-Bayqūniyyah, he compiled the definitions of the five categories of scholars of hadith based on the works of Jalāl ad-Dīn as-Suyūṭi in Tadrīb ar-Rāwi 1/29-42. In summary:

NOTE. My own translation, so treat with care.

  1. Al-Musnid (Arabic: المسند)

    The definition is:

    المسنِد بالكسر اسم فاعل، وهو من يروي الحديث بسنده، سواء كان عنده علم به أو ليس له إلا مجرد الرواية

    Al-Musnid is someone who narrates a hadith with its chain of narration, with or without knowledge of the content of the hadith itself other than its narration.

    — Sharḥ al-Mandhūma al-Bayqūniyyah, Vol. 1, pp. 13

    This is the lowest scholarly level of hadith.

  2. Al-Muḥaddith (Arabic: المحدث)

    The definition is:

    المحدث هو من تضلع في علم الحديث رواية ودراية، وما علمه من السنة أكثر مما غاب عنه

    Al-Muḥaddith is someone who mastered narration and awareness [the requirements of a al-musnid] and knows about the Sunnah more than he misses [i.e., can interpret more than half of the hadiths].

    — Sharḥ al-Mandhūma al-Bayqūniyyah, Vol. 1, pp. 14

    Commonly referred to as muḥaddith from our generation is Muqbil ibn Hādi al-Wādi'i.

  3. Al-Ḥāfidh (Arabic: الحافظ)

    The definition is:

    الحافظ قيل هو مرادف للمحدث، أي من تضلع في علم الحديث دراية ورواية، وما علمه أكثر مما غاب عنه وعند أهل التحقيق أنه أرفع درجة من المحدث، بحيث يكون ما يعرفه في كل طبقة أكثر بكثير مما يجهله

    Al-Ḥāfidh is a synonym for al-muḥaddith in terms of knowledge of Sunnah, but should know more than 50% of each generation of narrators.

    — Sharḥ al-Mandhūma al-Bayqūniyyah, Vol. 1, pp. 15

    In other words, al-ḥāfidh will still be required to know more than 50% of the narrators, but not at large; they have to know more than 50% of the generation of tabi'īs and more than 50% of the generation of tabi'ī at-tabi'īs, etc. Commonly referred to as ḥāfidh are At-Tirmidhi, Ibn Ḥajar al-'Asqalani, Muhammad ash-Shawkani, Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj, and Zain al-Dīn al-'Irāqi (not an exclusive list).

  4. Al-Ḥākim (Arabic: الحاكم)

    The definition is:

    الحاكم هو من أحاط علماً بجميع الأحاديث حتى لا يفوته منها إلا اليسير

    Al-Ḥākim is someone who has almost full knowledge of hadith and Sunnah that he only misses a tiny portion.

    — Sharḥ al-Mandhūma al-Bayqūniyyah, Vol. 1, pp. 16

    Commonly referred to as ḥākim Ibn Taymiyyah, Ibn Ḥajar al-'Asqalani, Muhammad Nāṣiruddin al-Albāni, and Adh-Dhahabi (not an exclusive list). Note that Al-Ḥākim an-Nisapūri is called al-ḥākim as a judiciary title, rather than a hadith scholarly title (not to belittle his very high level of knowledge of hadith).

  5. Amīr al-Mu'minīn fi al-Ḥadīth (Arabic: أمير المؤمنين في الحديث)

    The definition is:

    ولا يقال أمير المؤمنين في الحديث إلا أن يجتمع فيه وصفان: الوصف الأول سعة الحفظ والاطلاع. الوصف الثاني أن يكون ناقداً قوياً ثبتاً في الجرح والتعديل

    To be called Amīr al-Mu'minīn fi al-Ḥadīth, one has to possess two characteristics: the first is a high level of memorization and a high level of knowledge [of both hadith and Sunnah], and the second is memorizing and mastering the biographical evaluations (al-jarḥ wa at-ta'dīl) and be considered a reference [in these areas].

    — Sharḥ al-Mandhūma al-Bayqūniyyah, Vol. 1, pp. 17

    This is a very exclusive list of the highest level of knowledge of hadith that typically refers only to Al-Bukhāri, Shu'ba Ibn al-Ḥajjāj, and Sufyān ath-Thawri. However, some scholars added Ibn Ḥajar al-'Asqalani, too, to the list when referring to him.

  • I've seen some quotes adding imam Malik to the list of those referred to as Amir al-Mu'minin. – Medi1Saif Jun 29 '18 at 10:33
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The direct translation of Hafizdh is protector or guardian. We can relate to why the people who memorized the Quran in our prophet's, Abu Bakr siddiq's, and Omer ibn Khattab's time as 'Protectors' of the Quran since the complete written mushaf wasn't compiled yet. After many of the Hafizdh died or were killed, the decision was made by rashudin khalifa Othman ibn Affan to compile the complete mushaf of the entire Quran and verified by all the Hafizdh.

Allah promised to protect the Quran against corruption and he does this through the Hafizdh. Scholars who are known as sheiks or ulama are also Hafizdh but they go further by using Usool Al Fiqh to perform exegesis and interpretation of Quran and issue fatwas.

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    This post could benefit from evidences that support your claims! IMO the question has a certain importance because of the mainstream understanding that it is related to the Qur'an. Allah never said that he will protect the Qur'an through humans, but he certainly does. You should explain and give evidence for Hafidh meaning guardian or protector in this context. – Jamila Jun 15 '18 at 9:21

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